Waskom Dominates Newton In All Three Phases To Capture Its First-Ever State Championship, 41-22
ARLINGTON -- To become a state champion, Waskom head coach Whitney Keeling knew his team would have to put forth its best effort of the season.
They went a step further.
Waskom dominated in all three phases -- scoring on offense, defense, and special teams -- en route to a 41-22 victory Thursday night over Newton before 13,492 fans at AT&T Stadium in the Class 3A Division II title game.
"They knew that if we came out and played to the very best of our ability, and we told them we had to play a perfect game, Newton was gonna be the very best team that we've played all season," Keeling said. "And if I do say so myself, we played a perfect game."
Waskom captured the school's first-ever state championship one year removed from a state semifinal loss and two seasons following what officially went down as an 0-10 campaign after the forfeiture of seven wins.
"We never dwelled on that," Keeling said of the 2012 season. "Our kids are very resilient. They decided when that was over with, they were gonna go to work and do the best they can to be the best football team they could. Last year we had a great run, and this year was even better."
Offensively, Waskom did most of its damange all on the ground, like always. The Wildcats ripped off 350 rushing yards with just one passing completion, and just like last season, Waskom finished the year with four 1,000-yard rushers.
Kevin Johnson, voted the game's Offensive MVP, led the way with 106 yards on 11 carries. Junebug Johnson added 92 yards and a touchdown on eight attempts, quarterback Trace Carter ran 17 times for 77 yards and a score, and Dillon Benton picked up 69 yards on six carries, including a 51-yard touchdown early in the second quarter for the game's first points.
"Very, very unselfish," Keeling said of his offensive stars. "You look at last week, Trace had negative-2 yards. But it doesn't affect them. One week it's gonna be Kevin, one week it's gonna be Junebug. Dillon and Chan split the time right down the middle; they have almost the exact same number of carries.
"Trace is the one that distributes the ball to them, and he does a great job at it. I've heard before that it's always the quarterback that gets the recognition, but I don't feel that way. I feel like our entire unit gets that recognition, because our linemen do a great job also."
The biggest difference in this season's group was the emergence of junior running back and linebacker Chan Amie, who suffered a season-ending leg injury early in his sophomore year. He only ran for 11 yards Thursday, but returned a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter that gave Waskom the lead for good, and scored on a 5-yard run to cap the Wildcats' initial drive of the third quarter.
But Amie's biggest contribution may have come on defense, where he finished with 24 tackles and a forced fumble on the way to Defensive MVP honors.
"He frustrates the other team because he's always going to be around the ball, always," Keeling said of Amie. "If you watch our film, and we have to grade the tackles … he'll have 25 and people will say 'you're padding the stats.' I can promise you, if you watch it, we're not padding the stats."
Newton (12-4) rushed for 243 yards on the night. Senior running back Calum Foster finished with 117 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. But Waskom's defense was able to limit the speedy Eagles' explosive plays.
"That was the best tackling team I think we've played all year," said Newton coach W.T. Johnston. "Even the 4A schools that we played, I think these guys tackled better than anybody we played. I knew they were athletic, and they tackled well, and they were even more athletic than I thought they were."
Following Benton's 51-yard touchdown run down the Waskom sideline, Newton recovered an onside kick at midfield and reached the end zone on its eighth play of the drive -- a Foster 8-yard run. Quarterback Roney Elam hit tight end Tanner Holmes for the two-point conversion, which gave Newton an 8-7 lead with 8:01 to play in the second quarter.
The lead lasted all of 15 seconds.
Amie fielded the ensuing Newton kickoff at his own 12, followed his wall of blockers and raced down the sideline for a touchdown, which re-gained all of the momentum for Waskom.
"I didn't feel good kicking it to them deep all night," Johnston said. "Looking back, we probably should've squibbed it on the ground right there and not given them a chance right after we scored."
Newton's next drive stalled, and Waskom extended its lead to 20-8 after an 11-play, 71-yard drive that ended with a Carter 2-yard run with 40 seconds remaining in the half.
"Before we went out today, that's what I told them; I said that we had to make sure we came out and play the first 24 minutes, and let the chips fall where they may," Keeling said. "But we had to play like every play was the last play."
Waskom received the second half's opening kickoff, and traveled 85 yards in just eight plays, building a 27-8 lead on Amie's 5-yard touchdown run.
Each offense was stopped on their next drive, but Waskom pinned Newton at its own 2 with a 59-yard punt late in the third quarter. On third-and-5, Benton and Amie combined on a stuff behind the line of scrimmage, and when the ball squirted out of the Newton ball carrier's hands, Keileon Johnson was there to pick it up. The 1-yard fumble return for a touchdown pushed Waskom's lead to 34-8 with 1:02 to play in the third.
"They beat us in the special teams," Johnston said. "We were supposed to try to get a kid on the field, and I don't know if he got caught looking at the scoreboard or what, but he didn't get on the field. And the ball rolled down to about the 2. It's just little things like that you can't do to win a game."
Newton scored on its next drive -- an 8-yard Gabe Foster run -- but it took nearly seven minutes off the clock. Waskom recovered the onside kick, and went down the field and scored to put the game away.
Waskom came dangerously close to not making it to Thursday's state final, trailing Sonora with a little more than two minutes to play in last week's semifinal. But a long touchdown run from Benton, and a goal-line stand in the waning seconds, punched Waskom's ticket to Jerry World.
"I spoke to (Gilmer coach Jeff Traylor) this week, and he said, 'you know, coach, there's always one game when you go through the playoffs that you have a hiccup on,'" Keeling said. "He said that his hiccup was against Gladewater and he said, 'coach, you'll win it.'"
No. 4 Waskom 41, Newton 22
Class 3A Division II State Championship
At AT&T Stadium, Arlington
Newton 0 8 0 14 -- 22
Waskom 0 20 14 7 -- 41
WAS--Dillon Benton 51 run (Jose Chavarria kick), 3:14.
NEW--Calum Foster 8 run (Tanner Holmes pass from Roney Elam), 8:01.
WAS--Chan Amie 88 kickoff return (run failed), 7:46.
WAS--Trace Carter 2 run (Chavarria kick), :40.
WAS--Amie 5 run (Chavarria kick), 6:54.
WAS--Keileon Johnson 1 fumble recovery (Chavarria kick), 1:02.
NEW--Gabe Foster 8 run (Logan Westbrook kick), 6:02.
WAS--Junebug Johnson 1 run (Chavarria kick), 2:13.
NEW--Gabe Foster 43 pass from Elam (Westbrook kick), 1:16.
First Downs 15 17
Total Yards 259 371
Rushes-Yards 48-216 46-350
Passing Yards 43 21
Comp.-Att.-Int. 1-3-0 1-1-0
Punts-Avg. 2-40.5 1-59.0
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 1-0
Penalties-Yards 3-20 3-25
RUSHING--Newton, Calum Foster 19-117, Jaron Hanks 13-62, Gabe Foster 10-40, Team 1-(-1), Roney Elam 5-(-2). Waskom, Kevin Johnson 11-106, Junebug Johnson 8-92, Trace Carter 17-73, Dillon Benton 6-69, Chan Amie 3-11, Team 1-(-1).
PASSING--Newton, Elam 1-2-0--43, Tanner Holmes 0-1-0--0. Waskom, Carter 1-1-0--21.
RECEIVING--Newton, Gabe Foster 1-43. Waskom, Kevin Johnson 1-21.